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Recently, as I was concocting my homemade coffee creamer, I ran into the need for sweetened condensed milk. As I scoured my pantry, I found a can lurking in the back corner, and thought I’d scored.
Then I checked the expiration date. The smudged blue print either read 2018…or 2010. As I contemplated just how expired this might be, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I’d bought sweetened condensed milk. It might have been from 2010. I wasn’t brave enough to chance it.
A few minutes later I was making the most of my son’s morning nap time and testing my first batches of homemade sweetened condensed milk.
Thankfully, homemade sweetened condensed milk is remarkably simple. Milk and sugar is all you really need.
- Milk: As the core ingredient, it’s fair to say that choosing the milk is important. A full fat milk will yield a creamier, thicker product, but whole fat cow’s milk is not you’re only option. You can use any milk you desire, nut, cow, goat, soy, or coconut. You can even use heavy cream if you want a superbly luscious end product. Be advised your choice will affect the final flavor and the thickness of the result.
Sugar: As with the milk, you can use a huge variety of sweeteners. Sugars like granulated, cane, turbanido, or coconut will all work. Even maple syrup will do the trick (though expensive!). Strangely, the sugar you use doesn’t affect the final flavor all that much! I’ve used brown, granulated, and turbanido, and they all tasted remarkably similar. Because I don’t drink sweetened condensed milk straight anyway, just use an inexpensive sugar you like.
- A note on sugar alternatives like Stevia and Splenda – these sweetners do not operate the same as sugar, and as such, won’t work as a 1 to 1 replacement in this recipe. IF you feel you must use a sugar subsitute, I’d recommend finding one that can replace sugar 1 to 1 in baking.
It was interesting when I started researching that so many recipes called for extra ingredients: butter, vanilla extract, even a few for baking soda. This seemed odd to me, since even the can of sweetened condensed milk you buy only has two ingredients – milk and sugar. Never one to dismiss without a test, I went ahead and gave these a try.
- Butter – Often just a tablespoon or two was called for, but I found this to be completely unnecessary. I like butter, it tastes great one a lot of things, but not here. I could barely discern any difference between one with it and the one without, and it annoyed me that the fat kept separating in the jar.
- Vanilla – Again, just unnecessary. If you’re using sweetened condensed milk as a straight creamer for your coffee, adding some vanilla might be a good idea. But since most people use it as an ingredient in something else, you don’t need to flavor it beyond sugar.
- Baking soda – This one I admit baffled me. I thought perhaps it would aid the butter incorporating into the milk, or stop some foaming. Honestly, when added to a sweetened condensed milk with butter and a milk without it, I couldn’t taste any difference whatsoever.
My advice – keep it simple and inexpensive, just use milk and sugar.
Why Make it?
Sweetened condensed milk isn’t all that expensive. Most store bought cans don’t contain anything strange. So why bother making it at all?
Part of my from scratch approach to cooking is to avoid buying something I can easily make with pantry staples. It’s not expensive, but it’s still a few dollars I don’t have to spend at all.
For anyone curious, a can of organic sweetened condensed milk was $3.49 last time I was at the store. To make the equivalent of that with the organic milk and sugar I was going to buy anyway, it cost me $0 .65.
It also allows you to customize it. I can make it sweeter, thicker, thinner, whatever I need for my purposes that week.
The ideal level of sweetness for me was achieved with a ratio of 3 parts milk, 1 part sugar. So for every 3 cups of milk used, I used 1 cup of sugar. It’s that simple. This amount will yield about 1 cup of condensed milk.
For those using skim, almond, or other thinner milks, to achieve a thicker end result you’ll have to reduce longer and therefore it will yield less.
I should note that since my intent was to use it for coffee creamer, I didn’t reduce it as long, only about half. It was a slightly thick, creamy and sweet liquid I was satisfied with. Think about your purpose, and reduce accordingly!
Making homemade sweetened condensed milk is as simple as the ratio. Mix milk and sugar, reduce. That’s it. The name really does say it all, you’re simply condensing milk with a sweetener.
Accomplishing this just takes some patience. By applying gentle heat to the milk, the excess water content evaporates. And yes, if you’re wondering if this is how evaporated milk is made, it is. Remove the sugar and that’s exactly what you’ll get!
Fast or Slow?
The question is how much heat do you apply and how quickly. Milk is infamous for scorching under high heat, so a quick boil would seem impossible right?
Actually, no. Sugar changes the nature of milk when combined over heat, and reduces the risk of scorching. Reduces – it does not eliminate it.
If you want to make sweetened condensed milk in under an hour, you can. Mix the sugar and milk and place it over medium-high heat. Bring it to a gentle boil, and babysit. Don’t wander away for too long, and give it a gentle stir every few minutes. When the milk has reduced by two thirds, remove from heat and pour into a storage jar.
Now, I very rarely find myself with an hour to stand at the stove. Even when I do have baby free hands, I’m often distracted, and I’m very likely to forget the milk bubbling on the stove.
Sooo, slow and steady wins the race for me. Instead I combine the milk and sugar over medium high heat, stir until the milk just starts to boil then crank it on down to low. You want the milk to be hot enough to steam, no bubbles. Every 20 minutes or so, I wander by and stir it, and in a few hours, it’s ready to go.
Bonus tip – to check how much the milk has reduced, you just need a wooden skewer and a marker. When you first put the pot on, mark the milk level with the marker. When the milk level is one third the height of the original, you’re all done.
Keep in mind that your finished milk will thicken slightly as it cools. If, however, it still seems too thin for your purposes it can be reduced further.
This can be safely stored in your fridge, in a well sealed container, for up to a month. If you have the ability to pressure can, it can even be made shelf stable.
As with many things, there are plenty of other ways to make sweetened condensed milk. You could dissolve sugar into evaporated milk. Since I’d have to reduce milk to make the evaporated milk anyway, it’s just silly. You could also use dry milk powder if you’d prefer.
I personally only purchase small amounts of dry milk powder when I want to make my Homemade Hot Cocoa mix or a bread recipe I know calls for it, but always have milk in the fridge. If you wanted to check out how to make it with dry milk here’s a recipe from Food Network
Uses for Sweetened Condensed Milk
Odds are if you’re looking for this kind of recipe, you probably needed sweetened condensed milk and found yourself in a pinch like I did. I hope you’re well on your way to whatever you needed it for now!
But now that you know how to make it, you’ll be able to use it for a huge number of things.
It makes a delicious coffee creamer. Either mixed into coffee straight, or as an ingredient in your own homemade coffee creamer, it’s a tasty addition! It can also provide richness to your hot cocoa!
Or did you know that by submerging a sealed jar of sweetened condensed milk in gently boiling water, you can make dulce de leche?
Sweetened condensed milk is also great as an ingredient in cakes, fudge, brownies, ice cream, and cookies. Play around with it! After all, it’s really incredibly easy to make
- 1 Cup Sugar Use sugar of choice: granulated, brown, turbanido etc.
- 3 Cups Milk Any milk of choice!
Combine sugar and milk in a large pot over medium heat.
Bring to a boil, stirring to prevent burning.
Once boiling, reduce heat to low, maintaining enough heat to keep milk steaming.
Stir every 20 to 30 minutes until milk has reduced by two thirds, or is desired thickness.
Pour into storage jar and allow to cool. Seal tightly and store in fridge up to 1 month.